After studying abroad in Thailand, I realized that my life in the U.S. is really different to a student’s life in Thailand. Here’s what I learned from Thai culture while studying abroad there for a semester.
My life in the U.S. is super busy
In addition to being a full-time student back at my home university, I also hold 2 jobs: Resident Mentor and Undergraduate Research Assistant. My schedule fits my personality because I like to keep myself busy as well as always productive, and to be consistently making progress towards my long term career goals by working hard. Essentially, my life at home revolves around reaching achievements and expectations that I set for myself.
How Thai culture is different
Thais take it easy
While this mentality fits the American culture well, it didn’t take me long to realize that Thai culture is really different. Just like the Thai phrase “Sabai sabai” (which translates to “take it easy”) suggests, their culture values living in the present and not worrying about things you can’t control. For example, when I was late for class, it wasn’t as big of a deal as it is at my university in the U.S. I think this is because being on time is not as important as a symbol of respect.
Relationships are the most important thing in life
Thai culture also puts a much higher value on respecting those who are older or more experienced, and on putting others’ happiness before your own. These values are manifestations of the larger idea that relationships are the most important thing in life. This concept of a culture being motivated by relationships has resulted in the Thai people finding satisfaction easily in having good relationships with others.
How Thai culture has changed me
Though the values I outlined above are largely influenced by Buddhism, the principles are still applicable to me in my daily life. Rather than just being motivated by becoming a high achiever later in my career, I am now motivated by finding a balance between that and enjoying the present. I have also begun to worry less about the little things. Also, I am slowly trying to adopt the idea of putting my friends’ and family’s happiness before my own in order to strengthen relationships with others- just like the Thais do!
Adapting to local culture with the help of CIS Abroad
Besides learning more about myself through the lens of the Thai culture, one of my favorite parts about being here is having the opportunity to socialize with Thai students in my classes. Many of my classes are held in a building that is partially outside (as seen in the picture)!
Building at Mahidol University
I was shy at first, but I gradually started to initiate conversations with Thai students. I would not have had such a smooth transition without the local CIS Abroad staff here to help. It’s super helpful to have a contact who can speak fluent Thai and English, and who is familiar with the area to make recommendations when needed.
Overall, I am learning so much more about myself here in Bangkok than I ever anticipated. From going to school and meeting new people to learning Thai and traveling on the weekends, every experience I’ve had so far has been valuable. Most importantly, I came into studying abroad expecting to learn more about the Thai culture and I did. As a result, I am learning to embrace it and couldn’t be happier.